In response to speculation as to whether corporate hospitality involving tickets to the recent London Olympic Games might result in prosecutions under the Bribery Act, Serious Fraud Office Director David Green QC has stated:
We are not interested in that sort of case. We are interested in hearing that a large company has mysteriously come second in bidding for a big contract. The sort of bribery we would be investigating would not be tickets to Wimbledon or bottles of champagne. We are not the "serious champagne office".
This sort of common sense statement will come as some relief to organisations that have recently been wrestling with their corporate hospitality policies. No doubt the large numbers of empty corporate seats at the Games, particularly in the first few days, will fuel questions as to whether the Bribery Act deterred British businesses from making the most of this unique opportunity to entertain guests in an environment that brought out the best of Britain.
As we have debated in previous postings on the Bribery Library, it has never been the intention of the Bribery Act to undermine the British corporate hospitality industry. Such hospitality, when used to foster legitimate business relationships, should not be problematic. It is only when corporate entertainment is manifestly disproportionate that eyebrows will be raised. Good compliance policies will therefore not seek to ban or unduly limit hospitality, but will ensure that there are processes in place for approving and monitoring it.
The message from the SFO has never been that it regards corporate hospitality to be a form of bribery; what is important is that businesses remain vigilant to ensure that the veneer of hospitality is not used to disguise what are actually corrupt payments.